The question is shocking, as it seems impossible. Yet, in today’s social media enhanced workplace, the potential is implicit within the technology. We would not expect a Chief executive to open a company’s mail, sort it and deliver it. Yet, technology, by giving Chief Executives access to large amounts of information, both about the company and its industry can have that effect. The following temptations can emerge.
- The Chief Executive as Editor in Chief
- The Chief Executive the Entertainer
- The Chief Executive as Press Spokesman
- The Chief Executive as Project Manager
The Chief Executive as Editor in Chief.
As social media and technology tools allow the Chief Executive becomes immersed in the details, they can become like an editor. Like a copy editor, they focus on the details of the business, the comma, the grammar. We can see this with Lyndon Johnson and the desire to manage specific targets during the Vietnam War. The desire for more information gets the Chief Executive immersed in the detail. The challenge is to set up the processes and procedures that sifts the details into a action plan for the Chief Executive. To put it directly, the Chief Executive has to offer more than being an editor. He has to provide the vision and strategy. To continue this analogy, he has to be the publisher not the editor.
The Chief Executive as Entertainer
Here is where the need to create content and meaning as set out in McKinsey’s report on social media skills for leaders. Here, though, the social media becomes an end in itself. The Chief Executive becomes engrossed in the operational rather than strategic tasks. The challenge is that the Chief Executive becomes the face of the organisation and thus becomes responsible for the details of the media message. They are blogging, tweeting, and posting online videos. The Chief Executive becomes the frontline staff by default. As the demand for content increases, they are drawn into more media work rather than strategic work. In worst-case scenarios, the Chief Executive becomes the Press spokesperson.
The Chief Executive as press spokesperson.
The more the Chief Executive becomes available through online media, the more tempting it is to read the reviews. The Chief Executive can become overly concerned with appearance if their focus on outcomes is only to manage their appearance, then their approach is to act as a spokesperson. In that situation, the social media, because it allows all views to be seen and heard, creates the fear of bad press. To paraphrase PT Barnum, you cannot keep all the people happy all the time. As a result, the fear of “bad reviews” leads to a greater, rather than less, in the media message. If the Chief Executive does not step back from the stage, then the danger is that actions are taken to avoid bad press. In United States politics, Richard Nixon was a case study in avoiding bad press, which lead to an almost pathological concern for leaks.
The Chief Executive as Project Manager
In the social media age, this is the greatest temptation. The Chief Executive becomes involved in so much detail that agenda items soon reach double digits. The reports, papers, and presentations run to hundreds of pages as the thirst for detail increases. As a result, the Chief Executive and senior management team has no time to think or discuss. They are drowning in details.
The senior management team try to take control of the detail and revert to project managers. They lack the time or energy to develop a collective vision. They have forgotten their role and responsibility. As a result, the organisation begins to drift. Without the critical distance to set strategy, the Chief Executive allows operational issues to take priority. The management team need to set a strategic vision. They need to structure their meetings for strategic issues. Meetings need to be shorter on issues that fall within their role and responsibilities. They need to set up the procedures and systems so that reports come to them for decisions not details. They need to communicate the division of responsibility to the management teams. The organisation as a whole has to be clear about the relationship so that the information provided by social media is managed and monitored for the Chief Executive to understand its impact on strategic plans. If the Chief Executive is focused on the latest tweet or blog, they have lost their strategic vision. The detail is only important to the extent it affects the strategic vision.
In reality, none of these archetypes exists. Instead, they demonstrate the traits that can emerge because of the power of social media. They are more likely to occur in larger organisations, but smaller organisations are not immune. The challenge is to spot the archetype as it emerges. How senior managers and the chief executive meet this challenge will depend on their awareness of social media and how it influences the organisational culture. The stronger the culture as centred around a common vision shared by all staff, the less the ephemera of social media will affect it.
The challenge is not so much to turn off social media, but to put it in the strategic context. The stronger the strategic vision, the less the Chief Executive will be tempted by social media’s daily hum.